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Idealog—in the ideas business

Geoff Ross: Less planning, more doing

Forget about crafting the perfect business plan. As soon as it’s written, says businessman Geoff Ross, it will be obsolete.

Geoff RossInstead, he says, focus on picking the right kind of business – one that you know, love, and understand.

Speaking at the World Class Inspire event hosted by expat network Kea, Ross urged prospective entrepreneurs to hunt out growth categories and capitalise on their “tail winds”.

“There is something to be said for just starting,” he said, adding that trying to second-guess every potential hurdle is a daunting – and losing – exercise. Rather, trust that you’ll deal to the challenges as they come – such as when he failed to account for excise tax when crunching the numbers for 42 Below, the vodka brand he later sold to Bacardi.

“Get your fundamentals right. If they’re right, just start.”

The first step to playing on the world stage, adds Ian Taylor of Animation Research, Is being prepared to face off against the very best – they don’t care where you come from, just as long as you can cut the mustard.

“The best way to take on the world is by sneaking up on it.”

According to Ross, self-belief is paramount, as is creating a great company culture (boot the non-believers; they’re toxic) and competitive advantage (“make sure you have one, and use it”).

Part of that competitive advantage, investor and Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall argues, are our pure, green credentials. While that image may have taken a hit in recent years, he says it’s a point of difference other countries can’t easily replicate.

Cleantech is a particularly hot space we can own, he says, with companies like LanzaTech demonstrating what we're capable of here.

And shifting our focus to emerging markets closer to home will be key in the coming decade.

"Most of the businesses we are looking at today are pointing toward Asia-Pacific," he said.

He warned startups not to overlook the importance of patents, acknowledging most startups didn't have spare cash to pump into this, but reminding them that most investors want to know how their product is protected.

Tindall also took a potshot at property investors, whom he said opted for safe investments over boosting exports and economic production.

"For too long, people that have surplus money have gone and invested in property," he lamented.

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Whether it's on paper or not, I presume he'd still agree that there's a place for a business plan when you're starting up?!

He says: “self-belief is paramount, as is creating a great company culture (boot the non-believers; they’re toxic) and competitive advantage (“make sure you have one, and use it”)” - aren't these all things that stem from going through the business plan process?

I believe his point is that while it's natural to want to cover all your bases, it's fruitless - you're better off getting stuck in and stay willing to adapt and pivot. Basically, a good enough plan executed now > a perfect plan executed later on.

If I had completed a business plan, thought about the market, wondered whether I should or should not,I would be still weeding my garden. Instead I created a yoghurt from coconut milk, went on my gut feeling, put it into the market and guess what it took off.Now licenced in the UK and about to be in the USA. All in 24 months. It could have ended up as just another idea sitting in my ideas box.My advice is to just do it if you have the passion.

Capital gains tax would redirect surplus capital out of property he lamented.

Dwight was right – planning is useless, but indispensible…

This recent story from Brett Roberts backs up Geoff's views…

I think a business plan should be renamed to a Strategy and should always be dynamic, living document and gives you the best of both worlds … Fexibility to adapt, do things and not set by concrete boundaries.

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